It is becoming constantly obvious of the decreasing lack of staff training and guidance throughout all levels of the hospitality industry. Staff are regularly walking around with little direction of their surroundings or even their job description.
It become noticeable as I was visiting one of Australia’s many boutique breweries and it occurred to me that the hospitality industry is slowly declining with professionalism and general ‘expected’ knowledge of their premises. It is not uncommon to be referred to as ‘mate’ or ‘man’ or even ‘dude’ and the lack of urgency to serve you can see you becoming sober between drinks or just in complete confusion whether they can actually see the empty plates that have been sitting there for the last 15 minutes with the table half asleep due to the hypnotizing effect of the ‘so called’ staff wandering around trying to avoid work at all costs.
This brewery proved to be a great example but it was definitely not out on its own in this area. It was an amazing fit-out with a small deli section and live music and quite a few different beers that are brewed on the premises. They even had a small tasting platter which provided 4 small beers of your choice (or a pre-selected variety) so you can get a great idea of the different flavours.
As I had little idea of this establishment, I chose the pre-selected beers to start with. While they were getting poured I was concerned of the amount of alcohol I would be consuming as I would like to know if I had legal capabilities of getting behind a steering wheel afterwards. As the glasses were significantly smaller than a usual 10oz, I kindly asked the question "how much is in the glass?"
I was then quickly told "to the top!" and while I thought that this was quite an amusing joke, I soon realised that the staff member was being quite serious and also completely oblivious to my question. After further discussion about the question and a series of conversations between the supervisor and the staff member, I soon found out the answer. After this slight confusion, I was waiting to find out more about the beer choices and assumed that there was a particular order to be tasting them as there were some light colours and also very dark ones.
This answer also deemed too difficult for the staff member to comprehend so I continued on to my table to work this out myself. While I didn’t expect to know every ingredient and a full run-down of the brewing process, I did expect a little knowledge on the beers. It is a boutique brewery after all.
After ordering from the very limited menu that makes a fish and chip shop look gourmet, the waitress had no idea of who ordered what, and there were only two of us, and after questioning such a dilemma we were presented with the question "is that it?" Well let’s see Ms Waitress, did we order anything else? Is there anything else on the docket? I’m sure you can work this one out for yourself. After this experience, we chose to not stay any longer as it proved to be too difficult to provide us with a reasonable level of service.
This kind of behavior is not uncommon, even in the finest of restaurants, and it can be easily fixed with a little staff training and direction. Here are some areas that need to be considered and it doesn’t matter what kind of establishment it is, it should be incorporated into the business whether it’s a take-away shop, a pub, a cafe or a restaurant.
Make a list of all the ingredients and terms on the menu.
There is nothing worse than asking what a consommé is or what an artichoke is or even how something is cooked to only be told that the wait staff member needs to go back to the kitchen to ask the chef. Make a full list of anything that may be questioned (no matter how simple it may be) and describe in full detail about the item/procedure. This should also be extended to the matching of ingredients. It’s important for the wait staff to understand why certain ingredients have been put together to further enhance the experience for the guest. Wine knowledge and recommendation is also essential. Staff should know basic characteristics of the wine and which wines best suit certain dishes. Every staff member should get a copy and be made to examine it and be encouraged to ask questions accordingly.
Make a set floor and table plan.
Staff should not be walking around in circles looking for a particular table and when delivering the food they should not have to ask who is having what. Tables should have set numbers with a map of the dining area put up next to the waiter’s station. There should also be a seating plan for each table that will define who has ordered what. The dishes would be written in order starting from a particular seat on the table and working in a particular direction. This would be standard for every table in the establishment so no matter who delivers the food, they know exactly where the first dish is to be placed.
Pay a great amount of attention to every table.
Customers do not want to wait for another drink nor do they want to stare too long at the remains of their finished dinner. Every minute that a customer goes without attention increases the chance of them not wanting that extra drink or going without dessert or even walking out and gaining negative feelings about the place. In addition to this, there is little chance of them leaving a tip.
Being polite is cool, being cool is not being cool.
It doesn’t matter about the appearance of people, they do not want to get called mate or dude. A simple sir or ma’am or just a "here’s your drink" is the only acceptable form of communication. Of course there will be customers that you can act a little more relaxed around but you should never lose that mark of respect. They are paying for your service after all. However, snobbery is also unacceptable, you should be friendly, polite and professional.
Avoid stupid questions.
Do not ask "are you right?" They wouldn’t be standing or sitting there staring at you looking anxious for your attention if they were ‘all right’. Unless they are in awe of your gracious looks, there is a highly possible chance that they need something. And they probably want it now.
So in conclusion, a little extra time and staff training in the beginning will surely put you way in front at the end. I know where I’d rather be when dining out.
Matt Clark Culinary Consultant, Freelance Food Writer and Professional Chef.